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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Chartier. Paris.

After watching another glorious Rachel Khoo programme set inParis I started thinking about previous times I had visited this stunning city and places I had eaten. One of the predominant memories was that of the restaurant Chartier.

I’ve eaten at Chartier twice in my life. The first time was back in 1990 on an Arts student vacation in Paris. I went with the tutors and some of the other mature students on recommendation of Susan Croft, one of my drama tutors. I wasn’t the huge Francophile I am these days but I certainly appreciated the atmosphere in the restaurant and the history of the place. There was an element of excitement about eating in the busy restaurant and the fun aspect of the likelihood that you may have to share a table with strangers.

Quote from their website: ‘ In 1896, the Bouillon Chartier was born out of a very simple concept – provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and give customers good service in order to earn their loyalty. 50 million meals, and only four owners later, the recipe is still every bit as much a success.’

More from their website: ‘Enter the large, legendary, historically listed dining room. Have a seat at a table and take the time to admire the famous sideboards where regulars kept their own, personal napkins and the painting by Germont, who gave it to the establishment as payment for his debt there. Watch the elegant to and fro of servers dressed in black vests and white aprons, unmatched for their efficiency. And then get ready to delight your taste buds! The dishes are traditional but with a wide range of choices at frankly unbeatable prices. Enjoy leeks vinaigrette, hard-boiled eggs with mayonnaise, vegetable soup or snails for starters; meat, fish or stews simmered to perfection come next. The menu is a long one, the meals are authentic and the mains are around €10. You can be sure that what you’re getting is quality, too as their suppliers are consistent and always among the best. For dessert, treat yourself to the famous home-made Chantilly cream; you won’t find it anywhere else. In fact, no matter what you’re seeking at Chartier, you probably won’t find it anywhere else… because there’s only one Paris, only one 9th arrondissement and only one Bouillon Chartier.’
this is the menu in my kitchen with original French Francs

The second time was with my wife at the time and we were on our honeymoon in June of 1997. I had walked the poor woman all over Paris  in my enthusiasm to show her the city of light which I love, and she was complaining about her blisters and after a day in and around Montmartre we finally descended on Chartier mid afternoon and had a lovely time. As well as gorging on the lovely food we also had three or four Kir Royales and wobbled out of the restaurant very happy bunnies. The Chartier menu got framed up and has all the prices in French Francs. I notice that the menus now have Bouillon at the top as opposed to restaurant was it was advertised in the past. "Bouillon" = a mixture of meat and vegetables.

An interesting aspect of the restaurant are the afore-mentioned  famous wooden racks with numbered drawers laid out along the room. These symbols of Chartier, as old as the restaurant itself, relate to when every customer had its own napkin and could store it in the numbered drawers.

Alain Ducasse in his restaurant based tome ‘J’aime Paris’ says about Chartier that: ‘This reasonably priced restaurant has always had bouillon as its signature dish, a broth made from meat and vegetables served directly at the table. Chartier is popular for its unusual mix of bistro cooking and opulent theatrical décor. As if seated in a velvet lined box you can appreciate this quality by simply biting into an egg with mayonnaise. Canteen style dishes are the order of the day, with grated carrots and cucumber and cream. The menu scrawled on a tablecloth is almost worth framing.’

And I did!!!

Monday, 26 March 2012

People watching in the Family Café

Last Thursday I worked my late shift at Tesco and arrived at the shop half an hour before I was due to start work. I fancied a coffee and sat for a while with a cappuccino in the Family Café that the customers and visitor’s use. It was fairly relaxing and I spent the time people watching and recorded my observations on my Dictaphone. It looks like a mobile so I get away with talking to myself most of the time. It was fun observing people and it seemed a good thing to write about for a blogpost. Part of me wished I had my camera with me but I didn’t and in retrospect it’s better that I didn’t bring it out in such a close public space and draw attention to myself.

Here are my embellished notes on the people around and some quick drawings done afterwards.

 I spy two women in their mid thirties perhaps, both wearing  spotty blouses, one woman’s spots were bigger than the other’s. Both have a hair flicking habit and the one facing me has a very big smile. Big spots’ laptop is half open or half closed dependent on your viewpoint. Small spots’ folder is fully open. Generously open. They both have mineral water and cupcake crumbs.

On another table by the window pale sunlight is coming through. Here are two Turkish looking ladies, both enormous, being kitted out in several layers of clothing making their heads look small. Both ladies heads are covered in headscarves, one red one black. Thought they must be bloody boiling sitting in the sun with all these layers on. Young boy in a blue scary devil’s mask that’s too big for his head. Boy is turning his head away from the spoonful of baked beans that he is being offered by the woman in the black headscarf. The sunlight streaming through the dirty window is making his little ears look bright red. Now he’s über reluctantly having his face wiped by one of the women. They are rubbing hard to remove a mixture of baked bean and something purple, maybe his drink.

Another two women  sit nearby (much younger and assumedly English) and are facing each other at another table by the window and although I hadn’t got my camera it would have made a great photo as they both have bottles of orange juice and I could just imagine the photo of them in silhouette with the orange bottles shining like day-glow orange in the middle. Swirly waves of design on the window behind them.

Trying hard not to be staring at the Lolita family behind me. They have a young daughter about fourteen or fifteen dressed in a dress design that is more suitable for a woman a lot older than her, or a pubescent prostitute trying to look eighteen, badly. Actually she is barely dressed at all and displaying to the world her youthful naked shoulders and arms and a pink bra strap that has fallen out of supportive position. She has enormous eyes and wild looking tussled hair, bright red lipstick, and is sitting drinking a milk shake through a pink lipstick stained straw. Get her some heart shaped sunglasses and a lollipop and you would have jail bait disaster on a plate. Mum and Dad are with her and her little sister.

Moving swiftly away from the teenage temptress, I spot a father and daughter over on the next table by the window. The daughter looks in her mid to late forties and her bespectacled head is arched over to the left whilst she talks to her dad on the opposite side of the table. Her hair is going prematurely grey and she constantly pushes the glasses back on to the bridge of her nose as if they are about to fall off. Both figures drum alternately with their fingers on the table. Her fingers appear to be painted with henna and her clothes are quite artistic and new hippy style. The old man seems to think that ‘muted and grubby’ are this season’s colours and he slurps his tea so loudly I can hear him four tables away.

 A very tiny and giggly little blonde haired girl totters past sporting a diddy rucksack with a bumble bee design. She is about two or three years old. Doting Mummy and Daddy are just ahead and swoop her lovingly up and place her gently in the supermarket trolley for a ride around Tesco.

On the other end of the age scale a doddery old dear in racing green also performs her version of the ‘tottering’ walk towards me. Only she is carrying a tray with tea cups, a jug of milk and a hot pot of tea and a generous slab of fruitcake; the latter item, to match her personality. She has the ‘granny grin’ that a lot of pensioners have. This is a practically permanent smile showing off her loose dentures and a small shred of lettuce from last night’s tea. The tray’s contents are sliding dangerously toward the café floor only to be pulled back at the last minute by the old lady. I notice that she is wearing her slippers from home, and they don’t match. Thankfully the perilous porter’s progress passes by and the drinks arrive intact on the table top behind me.

In the electrical section a boy child screams at the top of his shrill voice. I shudder, finish my coffee and head off to work.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Rachel Khoo and fun in the kitchen

Well, what a fun day I had yesterday. A full day off work (first in two weeks) and a full day in the kitchen with a break when I popped into Nottingham to buy a copy of Rachel Khoo’s book, The Little Paris Kitchen. Whilst in town I had a café complet style late breakfast in Café Rouge as a treat.

Back in the kitchen I made some Madeleine cakes and gave the mixture a real good fluffing up with a fork and the result was perfect Madeleines! The secret is to not overfill the shell like trays and to whisk the mixture well before cooling it in the fridge. Mine were lemony though I did like Rachel Khoo’s take on the classic French cakes by adding a raspberry and filling it with lemon curd. Hmmm!

I also made a loaf of bread from a packet and salivated over three sirloin steaks before putting them in the freezer for another day. In between cooking I got on with some clothes washing and ironing and took a dish of Madeleine cakes round to my neighbour Jo as a late birthday present.

Later on I checked out my Facebook page and saw a link to a ‘just for fun’ competition run by the Royal Ballet. They wanted people to send a video of themselves performing a grand jeté (big leap) for a Royal Ballet Live event on Friday 23rd March. It didn’t matter if you couldn't dance (that’s handy) and to make it fun. So I got out my tutu – like you do – and made a silly video. It might be too long as they only wanted 30 seconds but it was fun to mess about. By the way – in case you are now worried why Phil would have a tutu – I found it on top of a post box early one frosty morning as I was going to work and kept the lacy thing to decorate my lectern for A Christmas Carol. There you go.
My day was full of anticipation because in the evening the BBC were showing a new programme called The Little Paris Kitchen and it looked right up my rue. Paris, lovely home cooked food, and a very beautiful and talented presenter, Rachel Khoo.

On Sunday night I had made a big pot of Moroccan lamb stew after coming home from a day’s work and it wasn’t ready until about 9.30pm and I just didn’t feel like eating so late so I left it to cool down and went to bed. Last night I heated it up and it was delicious and I still have enough left for two more meals.

So, back to Monday night. Half past eight finally arrived and I sat down to watch Rachel’s programme. Superb!!! A feast for the eyes, and then there was Paris in the background. I want the video now!!! I loved the bee hives on top of a grand building in Paris and the views of the markets around the 13th arrondisment and her no messing cooking style and enthusiasm. I was licking my lips by the end of the programme and was gutted when the half hour had finished. Encore! Encore! I might well watch it again on BBCiplayer. Might well? Who am I kidding? I WILL be watching it again on BBCiplayer.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Funny names for Fish and Chip shops

‘Oh my Cod!!!! A Fish called Rhondda!

I was in discussion with my friend Paul about Chip Shops that have amusing names and so came about a madcap look at random Chip Shops around the East Midlands and beyond that have funny names. I promise you that I haven’t made any of these up. Cod’s honest truth.

A Fish called Rhondda (Ton Pentre, South Wales.), Oh My Cod (Hornchurch)

I found a number of 'Codfather' chippies.

'A Salt N Battered' was to be found in London road, Sheffield and in nearby Walkley, Sheffield was Codrophenia. (ref: Quadrophenia by The Who)

The others I found by chance through a random search on the internet. However I have to thanks Paul for the first one ‘In Cod We Serve’ and ‘apparently’ it appeared in the film Brassed Off.

In Cod We Serve. (Grimethorpe), The In Plaice (Clifton, Nottingham), Mr Chips (Grimsby), Frying Nemo (Goole), Moby Nick’s (Bradford), The Hippy Haddock (Halifax) Ickys (Leeds) Would you want to eat there?, Codley’s (Keighly) O'my Cod Fish and Chips,  (Majorca), The Frying Squad  (Northern Ireland) Battersea Cod's Home  (Sheffield), Flippers Fish Bar (Hythe)

Several cases of Friar Tuck or Fryer Tuck in the Midlands.

Fishcotheque (London), The Laughing Halibut (London),

Hedgehogs (Folkstone) Road kill alternative?

The Happy Haddock (Brighouse), Wi’bits (Huddersfield), The Fryer (Humberston – Grimsby),

Salt and Battery (Barnetby), Cod n’ Cockerel (Skeggy), Goodbuy Mr Chips (Derby), Friendly Fryer (Burton Upon Trent), Tasty Plaice (Eastwood – Nottingham)

There were many many, Crest of the Wave’s and Steve’s Fish ‘n Chips Bars.

Cods Scallops (Nottingham), Frydays (Swadlincote), Simply Fishy (Nottingham)

Great British Invention (East Leake), Frying Squad (Alfreton), Atlantis (Hucknall)

Chippy Shoppy (Nottingham), Trawler’s Catch (Loughborough)

Jolly Fryer (Kirby in Ashfield), Market Plaice Fish Restaurant (Sutton in Ashfield)

Harbour’s Fish Bar (Market Harborough), Poseidon Fish Bar (Leicester)

Hi Tide Fish Bar (Enderby, Leicester), Pisces Fish and Chips (Earl Shilton , Leicester)

Mermaid Fish Bar (Oakham), The Wise Plaice (Melton Mowbray),

The Codfather (Ryde – Isle of Wight),

Codrophenia (Sheffield),

Codfellas (Chesterfield), Fishy Business (Uttoxeter)

Spuds Place (Walsall),

Rock and Sole Plaice (London),Fish Bone (London)

 Ye Old Chippery (Barnet), Chips and Things (Dyfed), The Contented Sole (Dyfed)

Sglodion Y Sgwar (llanybydder)

Do you know of any others?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Chip In The Sugar - rehearsal process

At the moment I am two weeks into my ad hoc rehearsal schedule in learning Alan Bennett’s ‘A Chip In The Sugar’ monologue. My pet name for this foolhardy project is ‘Chip’ and it is going to Germany in May alongside  another short play called, ‘The Typists’. In my enthusiasm to perform, I blithely ignored the realistic fact that this humorous and pathos filled theatrical piece from Bennett’s original Talking Heads TV series  is actually sixteen pages long and forty minutes in performance on me tod!!! Proverbial light comes on when Phil realises a monologue is one person talking! Alone! On stage! Without a script!

possible poster option (visuals)
In this case, the monologue has the main character of Graham, an older gay man with mental health problems, living with his elderly mother who has met up with an old flame, a Mr Frank Turnbull , and is courting him despite her own problems with a failing memory. I have chosen to use differing voices for the various characters in the storytelling unlike Bennett who originally played Graham himself and all of the other characters with his own iconic voice. Both work equally well in performance and the writing is undeniably Alan Bennett in style; laconic, Yorkshire through and through, and witty, very witty indeed, and also full of understanding for human frailties.
another possible poster option (visuals)
It is a joy to try and learn and even though there are lots of ‘she said – he said - Mr Turnbull/Mother saids’ liberally scattered throughout the piece they are a part of the rhythm of the theatrical writing and though these interjections may seem odd  to an actor, at first, they actually work very well. They help create a rhythm, a pace and a balance.

Like any comedy, a lot of the performing does rely on being aware of where the laughs/chuckles are likely to occur and whilst rehearsing I have left a short space after the punch lines to practice, (albeit sans audience) the art of remembering the pick-up lines or the proceeding passage and story development. To help me with the rehearsal process I have recorded the piece with my Dictaphone and put it on a CD to play again and again at home and get me used to the story and the pace of its’ telling. I have also kept a copy on the Dictaphone itself to listen to during the day via a set of newly purchased headphones. I think that I am now the official ‘nutter on the bus’ who mutters to himself on the 6am Indigo bus to work each morning and during the day, at work itself. Paul, the chap on the fish counter, next to me at work, almost knows the script as well as me, so much has he heard it, or incorrect versions of it. I hope I haven’t bored the poor fellow to death. I have noticed that he has been fondling the knives rather a lot lately and has gained a rather twitchy, dangerous look in his eyes. Maybe he has a cold coming on.
I am often tired after a day’s work and don’t always feel inclined to spend the evening rehearsing and getting frustrated with myself because the lines aren’t coming out right, so I rehearse as and when the energy or enthusiasm is with me. I am enjoying the rehearsal process and the humour of the piece so I do try and find time to devote to learning it. The fact that I really need to be ready by the end of April (my deadline) spurs me on. Come June I will look back with astonishment that I managed to learn it all and perform successfully in Karlsruhe!

The script itself has a lot of repetition throughout and it is easy to find oneself verbally leaping on to another section in the story so concentration is paramount and doing one’s best to be true to every word and inflection helps build confidence in the piece. Without sounding immodest I often give myself a mental ‘slap on the back’ when I think that I am getting stronger in the recalling and performing without the script in front of me. Any actor would agree that these moments of freedom from eye-balling  or gripping desperately on to the script are scary but also a very satisfying part of the rehearsal process.

I mark up the script itself to remind myself of my own verbal errors (the odd word wrong or slight paraphrasing) and to illuminate links from one ‘idea’ within the storytelling to another. A good example of this last notion would be that Graham mentions his mother sitting on the cold pavement and in the next breath says, ”Come on Mother, we don’t want piles!” The link being that a cold bum might give her piles. The additional fact that pile and pavement both begin with P helps to cement the script memory too. Additionally, I often try to visualise the scene like a mini movie in my head and find this helps and I am prone to making little drawings in the margin to remind me of the thread and order of the prose.
in the original the marking and drawings were in red.
At this stage of writing this up (mid March 2012) I am confident in the first six pages. Only ten more to go!!!

Friday, 9 March 2012

For anyone who has ever used loo paper.

In case you didn’t know, the Romans were all happy to share an open communal toilet and defecate in full sight of each other. Lovely. Qui peto laboro una , deleo una.

In Roman advertising,, would their sponge on a stick be described as? ‘Salty, stingy but it does the job and less rough than sand’. Try Titus Andrex’s  - New Roman Sponge sticks in three different colours. Made for sharing. Because you are worth it Centurions.

As a recent visit to the supermarket proved to me, we are very pampered and want our toiletry to be as comfortable as possible and possibly to colour match the bathroom curtains and the puppy. ‘A touch of luxury . Andrex limited collection, bright and bold, a little touch of contemporary style.’ A limited collection of toilet paper? It’s going to get flushed down the loo. What next? Bog roll as Art? Limited Edition, papier de toilette as seen hanging in the Louvre?

What big softies we are now! When ah were a lad we used the Sporting Chronicle and Daily Mirror pages to clean up the proverbial family bottom. If you were lucky! Sometimes we’d have to stoop to The Sun. Times were hard.

 A part quote from the Nouvelle toilet tissue website illuminated that:

‘Nouvelle has found that softness is the most important thing that consumers look for when they choose a toilet tissue, so they have strived to provide a soft and luxurious paper for their customers.

The traditional image of toilet tissue made from recycled paper is that it is less soft than toilet tissue made from virgin pulp. (Virgin pulp is made from newly harvested trees, sawmill off cuts and forest thinning or short rotation cropping such as Eucalyptus).

And all research supported this view until they developed the Softest Ever Nouvelle, which they introduced in July 2000. In blind consumer tests, new Nouvelle was described as much softer than any Nouvelle they had made before, and also softer than a major virgin pulp brand. It was also seen to be the best value for money.’

Loo roll art

A blind consumer test? How did that work?

“Ok, Mr and Mrs Average, pants down and put these blindfolds on. Comfy? Have a good poop and try out these different bog roll papers. You’ll be pleased to know that there will be wet wipes somewhere along the way. Something to look forward too. Don’t be shy now. Nobody’s watching. Ready?”

The advertising nowadays offers a bewildering variety of choices featuring  - Indulgent softness – thicknesses of paper - moist toilet paper - flushable toilet wipes - gorgeous comfort quilt - super softy toilet tissue - three layers of velvety softness  and  a touch of shea butter, as opposed to a smearing of Tesco’s Value butter,  I guess.

Then we get all medical and botanic (it’s fecking loo roll for God’s sake!!) - Andrex skin kind with Aloe and vitamin E - Regina, chamomile soft toilet tissue - Enriched with genuine balm - Helping to protect the world’s trees – kind to Andrex puppies. Couchelle, get your derriere wiped by a happy  koala bear.

And as the Nouvelle folk said we want soft soft soft and thick. It’s gotta be thick and quilty. Nobody wants to poke the poo as they wipe, do they?  I know, it's a disgusting thought, but you laughed didn’t you? And I've never seen any toilet paper advertised as 'So thin it hurts.'

‘Nouvelle. How on earth did they get it so soft?’
‘Andrex classic white, soft strong and very long.’

‘Andrex, gorgeous comfort quilts.’

‘Velvet, soft, soft, soft, three layers of velvety softness.’

‘8 out of ten people prefer new softer velvet as compared with old triple velvet.’

‘ Lambi – so soft, you’ll  want to clean up your bottom on sheep. (I made that up, but back in the day lamb’s wool was used as a toilet paper.)

Prior to toilet paper, these civilizations/classes commonly opted for the following:

- Wealthy Romans -Wool, rosewater
- Public Restrooms in Ancient Rome- A sponge soaked in salt water, on the end of a stick
- Wealthy French – lace, wool and hemp; bidet
- Middle Ages – hayballs, a scraper/gompf stick kept in a container in the privy
- Early Americans – rags, newsprint, paper from catalogues, corncobs, and leaves
- Viking Age/England- discarded sheep and lambs wool
- Hawaiians – coconut shells
- Eskimos – snow and Tundra moss
- India – your left hand and water
- Commoners – Defecating in the river is very common
- Sailors from Spain/Portugal – frayed end of an old anchor line
- Medieval Europe- Straw, hay, grass, gompf stick
- United States – Corn cobs, Sears Roebuck catalogue, mussel shell, newspaper, l eaves, sand
- British Lords – pages from a book
- Elite citizens – Hemp & wool

Happy wiping!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Now that's what I call a display!!!

Some images today mainly from former Dewhursts the Master Butchers' shops around the UK. The patriotic displays would have been created around the time Charles and Diana got married. When I speak to some of my younger friends in their twenties they have no idea to whom I am referring when I mention J H Dewhurst. "Was he a DJ?" one asked.

A Dewhurst the Butcher's shop used to be on practically every High Street in most towns and cities in the UK up until the early 1990s. I worked for them for about six years in Derby. I never got involved in displays as elaborate as these ones but we prided ourselves on creating an attractive display of meat every working day. See this earlier blog linked below for further enlightenment.

Fit as a butcher's dog - the Dewhurst years.

The PILE IT HIGH approach.

Bye Bye Family Butcher